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Your Dog’s Hyper Personality Is (At Least Partly) Your Own Dang Fault

A new study finds that your dog’s breed is not the primary determinant of their personality. Ruff!

Originally Published: 
dog lying down biting a cushion inside the house
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If your apartment-dwelling Australian Shepard or Border Collie is destroying your shoes and nipping at your toddler's heels, it’s not just because he’s a herding dog, according to new research from the University of Helsinki in Finland.

To finally put to rest the age-old myth that all dogs of a certain breed display the same character traits — like all pit bulls are aggressive man-eaters or dachshunds are super chill family dogs because of their breed — the research team examined data collected from more than 11,500 dogs to determine if members of the same breed all show the same personality characteristics.

They found that, to an extent, breed predilections are a thing, but they can be outweighed by environmental factors, a la nature vs. nurture. Their findings were published in the journal iScience.

The team analyzed behavior patterns in more than 300 dog breeds grouped into 52 breed groups — retrievers, bull-type terriers, and hunting terriers, for example — according to seven personality traits: insecurity, training focus, aggressiveness/dominance, energy, dog sociability, human sociability, and perseverance.

The researchers discovered that age was an important determinant for most of the behaviors. Older dogs tended to score lower in human and dog sociability, insecurity, and energy, while younger dogs scored lower in training focus.

Breed or breed group did play a significant role in aggressiveness/dominance, human sociability, and perseverance traits. Bull-type terriers, including pit bull terriers and other bully breeds, scored the highest in human sociability.

Yes, you read that correctly — pit bulls scored higher than any other breed in the trait associated with getting along well with humans.

However, bull-type terriers scored the lowest in training focus, so although they’re generally friendly and not vicious beasts, that doesn’t mean they won't jump up on you out of sheer joy at your presence.

As far as aggressiveness/dominance, fighting-type dogs scored highest, followed by German Shepards, while labs and golden retrievers scored lowest.

Miniature Pinschers scored highest in the perseverance category, and golden retrievers scored lowest, while Shetland Sheepdogs proved to be the most insecure. Bull-type breeds and brachycephalic dogs like Boxers and English Bulldogs scored lowest in the insecurity category.

The researchers also found that socialization during puppyhood was one of the most important determining factors in how dogs behaved. Regardless of breed or breed group, adult dogs that were well-socialized as youngsters showed lower insecurity and aggressiveness/dominance, and higher training focus and human and dog sociability than dogs that received less socialization early in life.

“Our findings indicate that new owners should familiarize their puppies as much as possible with unfamiliar people, places and animals,” explained lead author Milla Salonen. “Of course, socialization must always be done on the puppy’s terms, which means that the puppy must not be forced into frightening situations.”

Although breed characteristics can be overcome, it’s important to choose a dog wisely and take environmental circumstances into consideration. A hunting dog or hound may not be the best choice for an apartment-dweller due to their tendency to howl, and a herding dog may not do well in a home with young children because of their need to keep a flock together with nips and barks.

“The associations of breed and age of the dog with personality traits were more extensive than environmental factors,” the researchers said. “This was hardly surprising, as the environmental variables mostly considered the current environment of largely adult individuals … Overall, our results show that personality traits are complex and are likely influenced by the genetic background of the individual and life experiences.”

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